The symbolism was no doubt rife, but its engaging qualities were few and far between.
On yet another glorious Sunday evening, the Oneohtrix show at the Arnolfini along the Harbourside seemed the place to be. It promised a captivating night of audio-visual entertainment in one of Bristol’s most cultural surroundings. Upon walking into the Arnolfini, it’d be difficult to mistake it for your typical music venue. Not even the Colston Hall with all its elegance could stand up against the stark, sterile interior of the venue. Truly, this evening was about music as a form of art.
Almost immediately upon entering the main performance space, newly-formed trio Oscilanz took to the stage; Laura Cannell on woodwind and violin to the left, Charles Hayward on percussion in the centre, and Ralph Cumbers on trombone and electronics to the right. Their set was at times difficult to grasp – interpretations of 12th century compositions written by Hildegard Von Bingen, a nun, mystic, herbalist and inventor of her own language – but once you understand these compositions were fragmented intentionally by the Trio to springboard sounds of their own invention, the purpose becomes slightly clearer.
Points of reference are seemingly arbitrary when something is new, and the group’s approach to experimentalism and reinvention was commendatory. But with spasms of mathematical drum fills that would make Battles blush, recorder harmonies played in haunting synchronicity, deep brass notes and glitchy electronic work as their staple, Oscilanz were not an easy group to listen to either. There wasn’t really anything you could do but stand and stare half-bemused, half-entranced as the band’s curious musical exploration unfolded.
Next up was Sun Araw and Laraaji’s collaborative effort, ‘The Play Zone’. At first, with the painfully mundane visual accompaniments of a rotating fan – set at 25 degrees no less – displayed on a large screen behind the musicians, you’d be forgiven for letting out several internal groans. Another pretentious art piece perhaps too presumptuously sprung to mind.
Sun Araw’s solo introduction to the continuous piece was playful enough however, with a series of boppity electronic drums amidst a few strategic guitar plucks, but overall didn’t really seem to lead anywhere. The visuals alternated between two alternate views of the fan – one from the left and one, close up, on the right – but other than this the music was quite tame and was certainly not as gripping as the set’s celestial climax. Overall it was cheerful, chilled-out introduction to ‘The Play Zone’, whatever that may mean.
As Laraaji took the stage midway through, the music began its inevitable shift from the colourful to celestial. Assortments of new images were shown in accompaniment, which were still often head-scratchers but much more interesting than the omnipresent fan before. A master of the zither and lauded spiritualist, Laraaji’s set was captivating. From this point on, not a note seemed wasted; bells were rung and chimed euphoniously for a several sweet moments amidst the otherworldly mantra of lengthy notes that passed his lips. His endearing, humble thanks at the close of ‘The Play Zone’, the final bookend to an astounding set, raised a thunderous applause from the crowd. Frankly Laraaji was the evening’s true star, and this collaborative effort was nothing short of breathtaking; an entirely unique performance that will hopefully resonate with spectators for a long while to come.
As an impressive desk of pedals and dials were brought onto the stage, anticipation for the Oneohtrix set was high. Daniel Lopatin and live on-screen visualist Nate Boyce left the bar shortly before and took their positions. As the room plunged into darkness, bar an eerie glow from the huge projection screen, the two began their set.
The set was astoundingly loud, with lengthy blocks of pure noise pulsing through the crowded room. Familiar hypnotic soundscapes from Lopatin’s latest studio LP, ‘R Plus 7’ were brought through the cloying fuzz; the sampled vocal loops of ‘He She’, the rising organs of ‘Boring Angel’, and the static hisses of ‘Still Life’, although none in any particular order. The set was performed in several continuous chunks and songs were often revisited throughout, which gave each portion a cyclical quality.
The visuals on-screen – oblique shapes that were organic and pulsing but simultaneously mechanistic and metallic, displayed in some nightmarish art gallery trip – were at first interesting to watch, but later grew tiresome. The symbolism was no doubt rife, but its engaging qualities were few and far between.
Likewise, upon the half hour mark, Lopatin’s drone ad infinitum began to take its toll on a few audience members; excited, albeit cautious nodders gradually became less as the piece wore on. The continuous noise at a maddening volume was enough to make anyone hope the end would come soon. Bar one over-enthusiastic individual, who had had one too many, declaring Lopatin “the most forward-thinking musician of our generation”, many looked as though they’d had enough.
However, despite that particular fan’s intoxicated interjections, his statement holds some weight. Certainly, Lopatin’s music or art, call it what you will, is extremely bold and unconventional. On record, it can be utterly magnificent. Lopatin may perhaps be forward thinking in his approach to music, but whether the step is a wholly positive one could be debatable. Oneohtrix Point Never therefore becomes the point of no return; the end of music, when conventional harmonies begin to fail and dissonant noise reigns. After that is anyone’s guess.
Check out a bit of ‘Still Life’ right here: